Archive for January, 2009

Bloggers Taking Pictures at Restaurants — Recommendations for Chefs and Restaurateurs

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Since the very early days of this blog (way back in 2002) I realized that it was important to take pictures of the food I was writing about. My pictures have gotten a bit better since then (not hard given how bad they were when we started) but the value of the pictures is the same. Essentially, using only words to describe food (at least my words) just leaves something to be desired. And of course, even pictures + words isn’t completely optimal but we’re still working on the technology that lets you taste and smell the food via the blog. (More on that at another time.) Tastingmenu was among the first 10 food blogs on the internet. Today there are thousands. Given the explosion of food blogs and the essential nature of pictures in terms of describing food online you’d think that chefs and restaurant owners would be getting more savvy about food bloggers documenting their meals. It turns out this may not be the case, at least in terms of the sample of one I experienced recently.

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently checked out Joe Doe, a small adorable restaurant in NYC. When the food started coming, I took out my camera and started snapping pictures. I usually start out by taking a shot of the menu just so I remember the names of all the dishes I’m about to eat. When it comes to using a flash, I learned early that it basically ruins pictures. I have a bounce flash now, but I don’t want to disturb other diners. I usually only use my flash for that first menu shot. Then I’m all natural light, which unfortunately is usually not very much. Sure enough, even though I’d shot several pictures of the snack that we got before we ordered, it was the flash when I took the menu shot that got the Chef’s attention. Turns out, at least with Chef Joe, this was not a good thing.

Out of the hundreds of restaurants at which I’ve photographed my meal, I’ve only been asked not to take pictures six times (and on more than one occasion the request has come after I’ve already taken the shots – too late!). If the staff of the establishment asks me why I’m taking pictures, I usually try to deflect with a semi-truth, and tell them I really love to document everything I eat – which is true! If they tell me not to take pictures, I beg a bit. If that doesn’t work I usually let them know that I write a food blog, and that I only write about food I really like. So if I am not into my meal, they shouldn’t worry that I’m going to write something shitty, though what that has to do with whether I take pictures or not is not clear to me. I can write about the food with or without pictures. In a couple of cases, my little flowchart of responses has gotten folks to change their mind. In a couple it hasn’t. Chef Joe, through his patient and nervous front of the house staff stuck to his guns and said no.

In my experience, there are four main reasons why a chef might not want diners taking pictures of his or her food. I think three of them have some validity:

  • The photographer will be taking pictures of other diners who didn’t necessarily come to dinner to be featured on a blog. This makes perfect sense to me. And I’m always happy to only take pictures of the food and restaurant and make sure to be respectful of other diners. I’ve even been asked to not photograph staff, and I’m fine with that as well. I’m not there to do a fashion or gossip shoot. I just want pictures of the food.
  • The flash, or mechanics of taking the pictures will ruin the dining experience for other diners. I agree that a flash going off every couple of minutes at a table is distracting and I think it’s reasonable to ask a photographer not to use flash (or maybe just once to shoot the menu) so that it’s not distracting other diners. That said, I think if the photographer is discreet, and not making a big scene, it almost never affects other patrons of the restaurant except that they sometimes get curious and ask what you’re doing.
  • The food won’t look good/the photos are going to suck. I get this concern, but you have to imagine, if the food is good enough to serve to a customer, then it’s good enough to photograph. And I realize that some bloggers’ shitty cameras or bad technique may make the food look worse, but c’est la vie. To be fair to Chef Joe at Joe Doe, he did offer to let me set up an appointment to come and photograph the food properly. I might have even taken him up on it if I lived in NYC, but I don’t. I live in Seattle and my time is limited. On the one hand, I don’t think most food bloggers have the time to come back for a separate photo shoot. On the other hand, if you really like a restaurant, and want to write about it, why not take the time to go do a separate photo shoot.
  • Someone will see the pictures and “steal” the chef’s ideas/concepts/recipes. I’m not sure how to react to this other than to say… bullshit. I don’t buy for a second that somehow photography of your food is going to result in someone cloning your food and stealing your ideas. If you’re ideas are really that novel, most chefs won’t even recognize them as such because they’re so focused on following the latest trends. And besides, a photo is not food. Most great things are 10% conception, and 90% execution. Let other chefs try to steal your ideas, they’ll screw up the execution anyway so you have nothing to worry about.

In the middle of my negotiations with the chef, which took on a middle east peace conference vibe since all of it was done through two servers and the bartender (who were all very nice), I got the impression that the chef didn’t have a soft spot for bloggers. Honestly, I kind of get that. Bloggers are annoying. Present company included. But, tough shit. This annoying gaggle of self-documenting food lovers is only going to get more prevalent and more prolific over the coming years. Best to find a way to accommodate them.

My recommendation to chefs and other restaurant folks on how to deal with someone taking pictures of your food is to let them. Our society is only going to become more transparent, not less, best to adapt to the reality now. As annoying as they may be, there’s no reason to piss off bloggers. These days, many of them get more readers than the reviewer from the local paper (who in my opinion is just as annoying if not moreso). If you notice a diner taking pictures:

  • Thank them for being so interested in the food. Tell them you take it as a compliment. Cause it is.
  • Ask them if they wouldn’t mind not using a flash and not photographing the other diners. This is a reasonable request, and said properly, and in the context of encouraging them to take pictures of the food will almost always be received well.
  • Offer to let the blogger take some behind the scenes shots in the kitchen. Cooking is always great to photograph, especially as more texture for a post about the food itself. The blogger will feel special and be appreciative.
  • Offer to set up time with the blogger to come back and shoot the food when light is better and not during service. I would recommend doing this not instead of letting them shoot their meal but in addition. The blogger will appreciate it, and if they take you up on it, you’ll end up with better pictures on their blog. If they don’t… then they don’t.

Most importantly, chefs should think of bloggers/photographers as super customers. In other words, these are regular customers who are so passionate about your food that they want to tell the world about it. They can be your secret army of fans, evangelizing your restaurant and your food to everyone they know, and many they don’t through their web sites. And yes, some will say crappy things. But there are regular customers who will leave unhappy as well. The question is not one of perfection, it’s about the percentages. It’s true that some diners may rely on one lousy blog post to skip your establishment, but most savvy diners who are already taking the time to research their meal will try to triangulate by reading multiple write-ups. If your food is good, they’ll find out. And you may even have a blogger to thank.

Diminished Aesthetics

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The scene at Poppy is robust. As the dining room fills, it’s cavernous nature seems to amplify the energy of the 100 plus seats we fill every night. Large floor to 25 foot ceiling windows look out onto the bustle of the north tip of capitol hill’s main drag, Broadway, allowing the twinkle of lights, the passage of traffic, and the steady flow of passer-by’s to engage the diner. It’s less than intimate, speaking over the buzz of 40 other conversations, hearing laughter flow through your space, watching servers buzz food through the dining room at a dizzying rate. But feeling the room, the people, the life, is all part of being at Poppy.

The pace in the kitchen is much the same. Varying conversations cross the kitchen between the busy cooks, buzzing around each other, laughing, hustling. It’s an energizing to say the least.  Service is a rapid stream of orders flowing in and out, tickets lining the rail from 5 to 10, plates, and the large trays that are the Thali’s a constant cover on the pass.

With the speed and volume that it requires to keep up with this style of service, adjustments had to be made to the plating style.  In fact, coming from a girl who worked predominately the world of “large white plates, tiny tiny food,” I would say the visual aesthetic at poppy is virtually non existant. This, of course, is an over statement. However, the visual aesthetic of the dishes I plate at Poppy are completely and utterly at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The expansive canvas like plates we were used to working with have been replaced with diminutive Heath ceramic bowls, smaller than those I eat cereal out of at home. Rusty earth tones, oranges, browns, took the place of the high gloss white.  And the components are snuggled into their little bowls, or tiny plates, just big enough to comfortably hold them tight.

The modern plating styles I spent years developing, so exaggerated in the plates at Veil, are moot.  It was sad at first, not being able to stylize anything. But since then, it’s become a blessing of sorts.  With the dial turned so far down on the visual aesthetic, I have been able to concentrate on texture and flavor much more. If a component is no longer cut, shaped, made to look a certain way, the shape now primarily exists for it’s appeal in the mouth, and the way a spoon pressing into the bowl will pull at the component.

My little bowls of dessert have brought me quite a bit of joy, in fact. Take, for instance, my most popular dessert on the menu now, “Hot Date Cake”, a play on stick toffee pudding. A cake made of a copious amount of dates was designed to be very moist and sticky when cut in one inch cubes. Five of these sticky little cubes are warmed and nestled in the bottom of a little bowl, and soaked in a big one ounce ladle of warm butterscotch sauce. Scattered over this are pieces of medjool dates, and salty buttered pecans, cut to be just the right size to be spooned up, and feel big enough for textural appeal, but not too big that they need more attention from your mastisizing teeth than another component. A scoop of banana ice cream sits atop sized to melt just a little providing a sauce like layer and a nice firm cold portion of ice cream.  It nearly hides everything underneath from view.

If you are wondering, I take a good three hours a week hand cutting every buttered pecan exactly in half, and the dates in exactly twelve pieces. Sure, it would be easier to just run my knife through a pile of the pecans, breaking them up into approximate sized pieces, but that’s just not quite right. Some pieces would be too big, many about the right size, and then this layer of small pecan crumbs would stick to everything else in the bowl. And honestly, with such a humble presentation, the textures and flavors have to be even more correct.

Which brings us to the flavors. Rather than stretching them out over the expanse of a 10 inch plate, where they sit aside each other, the flavors in the bowl are compacted, right on top of each other, existing nearly with in each other. That means that if every single flavor added to a dish doesn’t taste perfect together, it won’t work.  It sounds like a big “duh”. Of course everything should taste good together. But when you are stretching flavors out over a plate, you don’t always get every single flavor on a spoonful, particularly not in the exact same ratios every time. It’s not that those large plated dishes shouldn’t make an effort to taste perfect together. Instead, it’s that in these little bowls of dessert, any subtle flaw or weakness in the flavor profile has no room to hide.

What I love about these tiny dishes I work with is that they exude comfort. It’s much like you would share a dessert at a friends house, at home cuddled up in the corner of your couch, around a pick nick table. And they are just so easy to pick up and share. And with the large, communal nature of the dining room at Poppy, the casual dining style, I feel these small layered dishes are the culmination of the experience.

It has brought to mind the question to me, how well would all of my stylized desserts have fared stacked in a bowl? Were the choices I made strong enough to stand up to such close quarters or did they favor a visual aesthetic that withdrew from the flavor pairings.

Michael Laiskonis wrote recently, referencing this same subject but on the flip side of it. He wondered if some of the stylistic choices he made added anything more than a visual aesthetic, and if not, did it belong.  He argued, and I agreed, that to a point, yes.  Components that add to the visual are appropriate, when used appropriately. When working in a restaurant which does use elegant plating styles to exemplify the experience in said restaurant, then a graphic line of sauce, a few dots, a sprinkle, used in moderation, absolutely belongs.

There are times when increasing the visual aesthetic is appropriate, and indeed increases the diners enjoyment of the dish. And to deny the importance of the visual aesthetic is to do a disservice to your customers experiences, and your desserts. Of course, the flavors must belong together. But drawing a line of sauce across the plate may not add flavor to every bite of your experience, the way a covering of the same sauce infuses every bite of my little bowls, it still belongs.

Desserts plated so stylistically are eaten differently as well, tentatively, with more awareness and caution, tasting a bit here, a bit there, not wanting to destroy the visual aesthetic more than necessary. So a line or dot of sauce offers the chance to dip the tip of your spoon in that flavor alone, taking it in, building the experience of taste as carefully as the dessert itself was constructed.

Of course, this is within reason.  I am sure most of us are quite glad to see the era of the sugar cage and bland white tuilles fading.  And can we also hope for the death of the duo of a mint sprig and dusting of powdered sugar????

I am a firm believer in loving everything for being what it is. A desert at Poppy, layered, snugly in it’s tiny earth toned bowl is Poppy, and is beautiful for existing there. The large expansive graphically presented plates from high end restaurants are equal, no better, no worse, but beautiful for being what they are and existing where they belong. One is not better than the other. You might prefer one to the other.  You might have had a higher percentage of good experiences in one format or another. But when done correctly, with respect to letting each be what they are, they are both beautiful.

Creme Brulee preferences, your thoughts needed

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

I have admitted here before that I don’t really have a sweet tooth.  As the years pass, the process of tasting and tasting and tasting my desserts as I make them every day has put me in a state of sugar overload.  So not only do I not have a sweet tooth, I have somewhat of a repulsion to sweet.

This overexposure, I believe, keeps me honest.  It keeps my desserts balanced in a way that the sweet is tolerable to me.  Not only that, but my distaste for just-plain-sweet helps remind me that my job is to create the culmination to your experience in a restaurant, which just happens to be the time you are most welcome to sweet flavors, rather than to just put something sweet on a plate.

Around 4 in the afternoon, when I hit my 8 hour mark in the kitchen, my fingers start to creep into the cooks prep work, snagging a piece of spice coated cauliflower waiting to be roasted, or a spoon of cooked chard waiting to become a gratin.  And the cooks laugh as I mumble the words, “mmmmm, not sweet.”

By that time in the day, the sweet part of my palate has been “rode hard and put away wet” so to speak.

But in no way should anyone ever think I don’t love dessert.  I do.  In particular, I love the act of finalizing a meal.  I love extending a social situation.  Sitting around a table with friends old and new,  leaning back in my chair, hunger satiated, but desiring to prolong the time, continue the conversations and laughter.  The time is coming to a close, but not until you have nibbled a little more, one last time, as you bring your conversations to their end.  Or if it’s just two of us, splitting a dessert, leaning in closer, talking about the flavors, creating a shared experience.

For me, this can happen with a few pieces of cheese, adorned with fruits, nuts, and honey, or a glass of sherry.  A satsuma, perfect in season, or slices of peach dipped in fresh yogurt.  At a friends house, I swooned over ripe strawberries dipped in lime curd.  One of my favorite recent experiences was a plate of bitter, nearly burnt almonds, and shards of dark, dark, dark chocolate.  At home a small square of nice chocolate is often the end of my dinner, as short and sweet as saying, “the end” after telling a story.  And in restaurants that hire pastry talent, I love seeing and appreciating another pastry chefs expression.

As for the desserts I make?  Enjoyment is somewhat lost in analysis.  It’s near impossible for me to eat them without completely dissecting them, looking for flaws to perfect.  And trust me, there are always things to improve.

But of the desserts I just flat out don’t like?  Those I would never order at a restaurant?  There is really just one.

Creme Brulee.

I really don’t like eating creme brulee.  It’s so rich.  And creamy, and custardy.  And that shattering layer of caramelized sugar?  Meh.

I get why people like it.  It’s rich, and creamy, and custardy, and there is this thin layer of shattering caramelized sugar on top.  It’s just not my thing.

It doesn’t help that every restaurant without a pastry chef has their nubile pantry cook, or worse, dishwasher throw creme brulees together.  So the percentage of mediocre brulee’s is out there, or worse, trio’s of mediocre brulees!

So when I make creme brulee for my menu, It’s not that I struggle, it’s just that it doesn’t mean anything to me.  I can’t internalize it, relish the simplicity of the contrasting textures.  Aside from the sand-castle-smashing little kid in me that loves cracking the sugary top, I don’t feel any emotion when I imagine sitting with a creme brulee in front of me.

I make it the way I think is best.  The custard set a hint firmer, certainly not loose in the center at all.  The base is all cream, baked in shallow dishes for maximum surface area, and infused with an interesting flavor, kaffir-lime leaf and lemongrass under-toned with chamomile at the moment.  I pull back on the sugar quite a bit, so the custard is never too sweet.  On top I melt the first layer of sugar with the torch, leaving it colorless and clear.  A second layer of sugar is bruleed, caramelizing the sugar according to the flavor of the custard.  A light amber for delicate aromatic brulees like the kaffir-lemongrass, dark, bitter notes for flavors like butterscotch, or vanilla.

I demand that the cooks let it sit for a full 2 minutes after torching the top before the servers are even aware it is ready.  If the sugar is at all warm and flexible, it won’t shatter when you tap it with a spoon.  And in a dessert with only 2 textural elements, this cracking of the sugary top is the only interactive part the dessert plays wiht the diner.  If it is not perfect, that’s 33 percent of the experience botched.

But honestly, it’s kind of a guess.  I do my best, but the dessert doesn’t hold a special place in my heart.  After making it the way I see fit, I still have no desire to eat it.  Ever.

So I ask of you out there, creme brulee fanatics, those that hold this dessert above all.  What are your preferences?  What does this dessert mean to you?  What constituted the best and worst creme brulee you have ever tasted?

Obama Menu

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Barack Obama, Joe Biden, their families, the supreme court, and members of the congressional leadership will eat lunch in Congress on the day of the inauguration. The menu is following a Lincoln theme:

“The luncheon’s appetizer will be seafood stew in puff pastry — scallops, shrimp, lobster — served as a nod to the 16th president’s love of stewed and scalloped oysters.

The main course — duck breast with sour-cherry chutney and herb-roasted pheasant served with molasses sweet potatoes and winter vegetables — is a nod to the root vegetables and wild game that Mr. Lincoln favored growing up on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana.”


We usually don’t post links on this blog, but this just seems cool.

Buttered Pecans

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

A component in a dessert at poppy, I have been keeping my pantry well stocked with buttered pecans.  It’s harder than one would think, what with the dessert they accompany being ridiculously popular.  The dessert is a play on sticky toffee pudding. Cubes of warmed date cake are drenched in hot butterscotch sauce, covered with pieces of medjool dates and the buttered pecans in question.  This warm concoction is crowned with a scoop of banana ice cream.

I can say with confidence, this is the first time, on any menu I have ever created, that a non chocolate dessert is the top seller.

So with the popularity of this dessert, playfully dubbed “hot date cake”, I am churning these buttered pecans out like there is no tomorow.  I realized today, after leaving the salty buttery nuts on the cooling rack too long, that it’s not just the high sales that are diminishing my stores.

Every cook that passed by nicked a few, popping them in their mouths before I noticed.  When I realized that 1/3 of the tray of pecans had gone missing, I confronted the scavengers.

It seems that I have created a few buttered pecan addicts.  I couldn’t blame them, I am one of them.

They get their flavor from being roasted in a coating of melted butter and salt.  As the pecans toast, the milk solids in the butter caramelize, giving these pecans a remarkable depth of richness.  As the pecans cool, the butter oil is absorbed by the pecan, leaving the salt clinging to the nut.  They are tender and crisp, melt in your mouth, salty, buttery, mapley, and completely addictive.

I highly recomend everyone treats pecans in this manner. While you can do healthy things with them, like put them in oatmeal or scatter over a wintery squash soup, I would highly recomend making a sundae.  Maybe with caramel sauce, over chocoalte ice cream, like those tasty little turtle candies.

Just don’t eat them all first.

Buttered pecans

150g pecans (about 1 cup)

25g butter (about 2 tbsp)

5g kosher salt (about 1 tsp)

1.  Melt the butter, and toss with the pecans and salt.

2.  Toast in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until the nuts deepen in color, become fragrant, and you can see that the butter has started to caramelize.

3.  Let them cool and sit for 2 hours before eating, so the butter soaks in.

Oh Yeah… My Co-Blogger is Famous and Stuff

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Generally we try not to toot our own horn here on Tastingmenu. And besides, what purpose would it serve, you wouldn’t believe us anyway. You’ll notice I haven’t reviewed Poppy (where Dana is the pastry chef). And believe me, it’s not cause I don’t enjoy eating her desserts. That said, once in awhile we do have to point you to some accolades. And since Dana would never link to it, I will! :)

I’ll quote the relevant parts from the article in today’s Seattle PI:

“Dana Cree, pastry chef at Poppy, made Bruno’s radar on her 2005 Seattle trip, when Cree was working at Veil. But Cree got this StarChefs’ call when she had been at Poppy just four days, with none of her creations on the menu.

She pulled mental ideas out of a hat. She prepared a talk on the Concord grape-rosemary sorbet that reflected some of her talents and interests. But she still didn’t feel prepared — and then, 90 minutes before she was scheduled to start plating her dishes, she began feeling nauseated and dizzy.

It turned out to be the start of the worst case of food poisoning she has had — and, she said, the luckiest. When she made her way down to the tasting team, they told her “we’ll come back in six weeks.”

When they did, judges wrote that Cree “impressed the hell out of us” with a bittersweet chocolate terrine paired with five garnishes, her “little black dress” of desserts that she makes to show that chocolate can go with anything, and an herbed-cider sorbet with pine nut “Crackerjacks”.

“She blew me away. This girl is one of the top five pastry chefs in the country right now, ” Bruno said.

The “Rising Star” recognition is meant for chefs who are 40 and younger and are “really making a difference in their culinary community,” Bruno said.”

Uh… kick ass! Yay Dana.

As the cookie crumbles

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I smiled to myself as I flipped through the 5 recipes contained in the first chapter of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, taking delight in her notation that her “favorite” recipe for chocolate chip cookies strait-up was temporary.   It’s a life long obsession for many pastry chefs, that of chasing the perfect chocolate chip cookie, one I like Falkner have been pursuing for years.

While I don’t make chocolate chip cookies with the once-a-week frequency Falkner admits to, I have been remaking these ubiquitous treats since I was but a  wee thing.  For many of us with a passion for baking, chocolate chip cookies are the first recipe we mastered.  I remember at the tender age of 12, beaming with pride as a batch of cookies was in the oven.  Not at the dough on the worn sheetpans in the oven, successfully melting into golden disks, the aroma teasing my little sisters as they licked the beaters clean of raw dough.  I was looking at the dirty dishes in the sink.   I had honed my process to dirty the absolute minimal amount of dishes; the two beaters and bowl of my mom’s aging sunbeam mixmaster, the white sifter with a red triggered handle and daisy decal chipping from the side, a bowl to sift the flour into, a rubber spatula, 2 measuring cups, a teaspoon, and a spoon from the silverware drawer for dropping.  And if my sisters did their jobs well, the beaters would be clean before they hit the suds!

Perhaps a glimpse at the pastry chef I was to become, I was as interested in the entire process as I was the results, which I watched carefully.

My recipe at the time was taken from the back of the tollhouse package, which I learned to tear carefully lest I rip important information from sight as I snuck a few chips from the bag.  It served me, and millions of other cookie baking Americans, well.  However, as soon as I began pursuing my career in desserts seriously, I began to stray.  I have tried more recipes than I can remember, resulting in good, bad, and ugly.  However, the most important result I have experienced is finding my preferences.

Preferred by myself is a cookie thick with chips, half milk, half very dark.  At home this means Ghiridelli, in the restaurant it’s chunks from what ever I have on hand, Valrhona at the moment, Cacao Barry and Callabeaut at other times.  I enjoy a flatter cookie, with a crackly crisp shell, that yields between the teeth easily to a dense chewy center.  My cookies have a smidge of extra salt, the zest of an orange, or if I am feeling frisky, lemon, and I love the flavor of brown sugar, as dark as I can find.  If there are to be nuts, I like them to be toasted cashews.  Good vanilla extract, real vanilla extract, is a must, and I have long since allowed gold medal brand flour near my baked goods, trading that bitter flour for the better tasting King Arthur.

But like Falkner said, her favorite chocolate chip cookie is a transient friend, and my current favorite is just that, current.  Two years ago I couldn’t be bothered to make anything but the recipe I pulled from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, scented with orange zest and rich with ground cashew flour.  Chewy, yes.  Double chips, absolutely.  A little salty, check.  And it introduced me to the addition of orange zest.

This year, however, my favorite is a recipe found online, from one of those homey recipe sharing sites, titled simply “bakery style chocolate chip cookies.”  What caught my eye was the small amount of butter used in the recipe.  Melted butter.  What the heck I thought, I’ll give it a shot.  I haven’t looked back.

This recipe uses the concept that liquid fat coats the flour molecules much more efficiently, making for a more tender product.  And because the fat isn’t aerated by creaming the granulated sugar with it, there are very few air pockets for the chemical leavener to expand during the baking process, leaving a denser cookie.  I also use granulated sugar with larger crystals, not that superfine bakers stuff, which dissolves at a slower rate and migrates to the surface of the cookie during the baking process for that crackly crisp shell I love so much.

I simply added the orange zest and double chocolate I love so much, cashews if they are around, and presto a new favorite was born.  I have to say, with the ease of melting the butter rather than tempering and creaming it to a specific stage, this recipe might just stick around for a while.

As for you, are you the cakey cookie type?  Do you like them tall and fluffy?  Under baked and raw in the center?  Baked firm and crunchy?  Milk chocolate?  Semisweet?  Dark?  Peanut butter chocolate chip, or perhaps oatmeal chocolate chip?  Maybe you even like the variations with the box of vanilla pudding in them, or from a tub of premade dough!  (No judgement from me!!)  Does anyone else miss the mint chocolate chips they used to sell?

Here’s my current favorite recipe, for you to try along your own quest for your perfect chocolate chip cookie.  Current, fleeting, and sitting on my counter cooling while I write and ponder what the addition of ground oats might do to them.  You know what the kids are saying these days, best friends forever for now!

For the best results, use a scale and use my gram measurements.  I will provide approximate cup/spoon measurements, but it won’t be exactly the same.

300 grams King Arthur all purpose flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)

3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)

7 grams kosher salt (1 1/3 tsp)

170 grams melted butter, cooled (3/4 cup)

225 grams dark brown sugar ( 1 cup)

100 grams larger crystal white sugar (1/2 cup)

1 egg

1 yolk

5 grams neilsen massey Madagascar vanilla extract (1 tsp)

1 orange

200 grams dark chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

200 grams milk chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)

( optional 100 grams chopped toasted cashews) (3/4 cup)

1.  Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk together until even.  Do not sift through a sifter as it will aerate the flour too much.  Set aside.

2.  Place the sugars in the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer (or prepare to use a large work bowl, a firm spoon, and your arm muscles).  Using a microplane zester, grate the zest from the orange directly over the sugars, which will collect every last drop of orange oil that is released.  Use your fingers to mix the sugars and orange zest, making sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add the egg,  yolk, melted butter, salt, and vanilla and paddle until smooth and even.

4.  Scrape the sides of the bowl well, working any uneven bits back into the mixture until even.

5.  Add the flour and mix on low until the dough comes together.  Add the chips and optional nuts and mix until even.

6.  Drop cookies onto cookie sheets and bake at 325 until done.  I use a  portion scoop with an ejection button found at kitchen supply shops or on amazon, often used as ice cream scoops or sometimes conveniently labeled as cookie scoops.  This will not only provide equally sized cookies which will bake evenly, but it will make perfectly round cookies as well.  Scoop 12 balls of cookie dough onto your sheet pan, which I always line with parchment, and press them down with your hand to a thickness just under half an inch.  This promotes the cookie to spread and be flat and even on top, just like you see in bakeries.

7.  Bake for 6 minutes, turn the pan around front to back and rotate it from the top of the oven to the bottom, or vice versa, and bake for 3 to 6 more minutes.  The top will crackle and will start to hint at golden brown when they are done.  Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer without breaking, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Assumed Origins

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

A discussion was had yesterday about how the restaurant would present creme brulee.  A dish as classic as they come, and one I have yet to serve on my 4 month young menu, we debated the need for a nibble on the side of the ramekin, a cookie most likely.

“Classicists would argue that the dish stands alone, and needs no adornment,” I brought to point.  “But they would also argue that it should never be flavored with anything but vanilla bean.”

Then someone said something that stunned me.

“Well, I don’t know who these “classicists” are, the dish was invented in the 1970′s by Le Cirque.”


I realized then and there that I had been functioning on the assumption that this dish, the noble creme brulee, was as old as France.  I had no factual basis for this assumption.  I just chalked it up to classic cuisine, taught early in my formal training at a learning institute based heavily on Escoffier.

But still, that couldn’t be right could it?

So I picked up Escoffier, and no dice.  No recipe for creme brulee is contained in the monolithic tome.  “Holy crap” I thought, could this possibly be?

Breath abated, I typed, “Creme brulee origin” into the google tool bar and waited for the results.

“It’s old!” I sighed.

Because google is arguably not a food historian, it gave me conflicting information as to the facts behind this dish’s origin.  But one thing remains true, records of an egg and cream custard with burnt sugar on top date back to the 17th century.  So my foundation remains stable.

It was just a little surprise to remember that I do function on assumptions every day.  My brain fills in the blanks so to speak, making little guesses, hypothesis, connections between the things I do know to create a whole picture for me.  It’s a good lesson to remember that those assumptions I haven’t solidified with fact are just that, and to speak of them as such, lest I unwittingly turn my assumptions into another young cooks facts!

And to all you creme brulee classicists who scoff at my brulee’s flavored with more than vanilla, you should know that the original creme brulee’s were most likely flavored with cinnamon, orange blossom and rose waters, bay leaf, or the peel of citrus.  And you might want to sit down for this…… they were also likely were studded with candied fruits and nuts.